Science filmmaker Luke Groskin discusses imaginary friends

Video producer Luke Groskin introduces Science Friday’s new series about children and their imaginary companions.


Joining me now is 'Science Friday' video producer Luke Groskin.

So, why is it useful to study children and their imaginary companions?

Well, you're looking at the beginning of pretend play, which is a -- a skill that you're gonna use throughout the rest of your life.

You're also getting a window into the mind of a child that you couldn't necessarily get.

So when you do an interview with a kid, um, they're not very good interviewees.

They tend to be unfocused, and they tend to lie, or they tend to play around with you.

And by having an imaginary companion, you can -- That's just one person.


You know, they've created another person.

So you can get a glimpse of how they view a relationship.

You can get a glimpse of how they view fantasy and reality.

And, you know, these are young kids.

You're getting a glimpse into the child, the development of a human being.


And so, by looking at imaginary companions, you -- you just get this one person, and they're just giving -- They're revealing all this information that you couldn't normally get.


And you see this, uh, this -- this -- what's -- what are their fears, what are their challenges, and how they kind of bottle that up into this other person.


You know, the children that create imaginary companions, they create them for a wide variety of reasons.

Sometimes, they're just bored.

Sometimes, they have a new sibling, and they want to work out what it's -- what it's like to be a family.

I met one little girl whose imaginary companion was her fiancé, and she created him right after she went to a wedding.

So, clearly, she's working out what does it mean to have a fiancé? What does it mean to be in a romantic relationship?

Obviously, through the prism of a 5-year-old...

Right.'s very innocent and very silly and goofy, but she's working it out, and you can actually see it in action.

So when you were in this, these rooms or watching these interviews, did you start picturing what they were describing?

Like, was -- was it yellow, is it black, is it tall, is it short, is it --

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

You -- You get into their little bubble fantasy world.

It's -- It's -- It's actually a real delight in terms of all the different sciences that I've -- I've been able to cover to actually talk to little kids and get into their fantasy.

It's not like when somebody just describes their dream, and you're like, 'Oh, that's something that's never occurred.'

For a child, it's real to them, this little fantasy world.

They know it's not real, but they're children, and so they bring this life and energy to it that you -- you can't get.


It's just so amazing.

Well, and plus -- I mean, I'm assuming that that informs how you built the graphics for the story.

Yes, of course.

And, you know, and -- and, also, it's kind of interesting, when we were working with the animator, you know, you watch this 30-minute interview.

And over the course of the 30-minute interview, the size of the imaginary companion might change, the color of their skin might change, their age might change.

Um, you go back, and you ask the same kid again, you know, what are the dimensions and the physicality of this -- this imaginary companion, and they tend to return to some sort of archetype.

And that's what we used for our animations.

This entire process is a really creative exercise.

Oh, yeah. You're -- You're looking at kind of the first, um, element of a child's ability to pretend.

You know, creating an imaginary companion is -- is a form of pretense.

And that sort of element of pretense, it takes a lot for a child to do that.

I met one little girl who actually, what she would do with her pretend imaginary companion was to pretend.

So now she has -- Now she has -- She's pretending.

She has the mind of another person in her head.

And that other person has a mind of another person in their head.

And she has her own mind, and she's pretending to be somebody else all at the same time.



So there's some really complex stuff going on here.

And we, as adults, we do this all the time.

You're in the shower, you're thinking about what you're gonna say to your boss or your friends.

Right, right.

And you're -- you're working it all out.

So, how is this series different -- I mean, this is a few different parts to this -- than some of the videos that you've worked on?

So, for 'Imaginary Companions,' um, we really wanted to -- to look at -- We really wanted to put people in -- in -- in the world of the -- the subjects as well.

We didn't want to just cover what the researchers were saying.

So we wanted to really see what it was like to have an imaginary companion and use those as kind of demonstrations of, you know, what it -- of what the science is showing us, as a leaping-off point to get into the science.

Normally, when you're doing these sorts of things, you -- you want to be a little bit more objective.

You don't want to exactly put yourselves in the head of the subjects that you're talking about.

But for this, we thought, you know, they're so wonderful and so -- so fanciful.


Better to get into their -- into their -- into their mindscape.

And that's what the researchers have to do as well.

Yeah. Luke Groskin from 'Science Friday.'

Thanks for joining us.

Thank you.